“a rose in a fisted glove…”

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

Geoffrey Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve (1412)

Geoffrey Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve (1412)

When in 1382 Chaucer wrote Parlement of Foules, it was to honour the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia; though both only 15 years old at the time, his immortal words were to forge the connection between today’s date (being February 14th) and what in many cultures has become the most important date in the calendar of love!!!

Like most such connections the association is somewhat historically tenuous but nonetheless no less interesting for that fact; let’s consider it in somewhat more detail & see how we might connect it with our International Programmes studies.

Well, historically it is important to note that Chaucer was not the only poet to make a connection between birds mating and St. Valentine’s day.  John Gower, Otton de Grandson and a knight called Pardo from Valencia had all used the same device. Those more biologically minded amongst you can’t perhaps have noted that February 14th is somewhat early for any Northern Hemisphere birds to be mating. Indeed it seems quite likely that Chaucer was in fact referring to May 3rd (this corresponded to the “celebration in the liturgical calendar of Valentine of Genoa, an early bishop of Genoa (d. AD307)”; and all of this complicated by the adoption of a new calendar, when in 1582, 10 days were essentially omitted (thus restoring 21 March as the date of the vernal equinox) and the Gregorian calendar established.

Antique valentine's card

Antique Valentine’s card

Calendar details aside (though to this day the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates St. Valentine’s day on July 6 and 30, the Brazilian Dia de Sao Valentim falls on June 12th whilst here in China the equivalent 七夕節 falls on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month); there has additionally been a great deal of debate as to which of the saints Valentinus St.Valentine’s Day actually refers to, and what he actually did to secure his canonisation. The most enduring hagiography refers to Saint Valentine of Rome stating that:

“he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell.”

Others writers have made associations with Lupercalia, a Roman (possibly even pre-Roman) fertility festival celebrated between February 13-15th. Few will know that in Padua, Italy, St. Valentine’s keys are given to children to ward off St. Valentine’s malady (epilepsy), whilst in some of my LLB colleagues’ countries it will be outlawed or viewed with a degree of suspicion as an unseemly celebration of depravity and immorality, requiring it to at the very least to be celebrated behind closed doors.

Salisbury Cathedral's 1215 Magna Carta

Salisbury Cathedral’s 1215 Magna Carta

What are we to learn from such machinations; well as I enter week 5 of my Coursera Magna Carta MOOC (which if any history or LLB students aren’t following, they should) I begin to really see the beauty and intricacies of any historical/legal/socio-political study programme. We would do well to take little for granted, and rather than see our studies as some kind of preformed package holiday it might do well to reframe them as something of an adventure; don’t be scared to take a few byroads, slip into a few caves, explore the nooks and crannies for it is there that history is truly to be found and the truth behind any stories, however appealing and romantic they may be, lays to be discovered.

I can only presume that it was such curiosity that fuelled one of the most remarkable recent news stories when Kent archivist Mark Bateson stumbled across a previously undiscovered copy of a 1215 Magna Carta in a Victorian scrapbook.

So when your energies are waning you might do well to remember the words of Stephen Stills’s wonderful song and even though your studies might seem something of a thorn in your side and your concentration be slipping away, “you got to do something” and that very something might be to “turn your heartache right into joy”.

There are greater things at stake so it might just be time to “love the one you’re with”.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

Mark is studying the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) by distance learning in Shanghai, China.


Ansgar, 1986, Chaucer and the Cult of Saint valentine

Frank Staff, The Valentine and Its Origins

The Magna Carta and its Legacy – https://www.coursera.org/course/magnacarta

Love The One Your With – Stephen Sills (1970)

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